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December 21, 2002

Deaf advocacy group wants school chief fired

From: The Olympian, WA - 21 Dec 2002

VANCOUVER, Wash. -- Faced with dozens of reports of sexual abuse at the Washington School for the Deaf, an advocacy group is demanding that Gov. Gary Locke fire the superintendent.

A state-appointed safety panel's final report to Locke criticized school officials for requiring a 14-year-old girl to meet with an older teenage boy who she claims sexually assaulted her two times at the state-run Vancouver school.

The girl attempted suicide Sept. 16, just hours after the meeting in superintendent Len Aron's office, prompting the panel to conclude in its Nov. 6 report that staff members "do not seem to understand the dynamics of victimization."

"It's time for new leadership who can bring swift changes," Marilyn Smith, executive director of Seattle-based Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services told a Seattle newspaper. "Enough time has been wasted."

Aron has repeatedly minimized the problem of sexual abuse at the school, Smith said, adding that the "last straw" was the staff's insensitivity with the 14-year-old girl.

Locke, who appointed Aron in 1998, has defended the superintendent in the face of dozens of reports of rapes, molestation and sexual harassment.

Aron expressed surprise at the safety panel's criticisms, and said he doesn't believe he should quit.

Locke set up the five-member safety panel, led by Clark County Superior Court Judge Diane Woolard, in June 2001. The panel called the staff's handling of the 14-year-old girl "completely inadequate" and criticized the school for failing to disclose her suicide attempt during a meeting in late October.

Locke's office refused to comment, calling it "a personnel issue."

State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, first called for Aron's resignation in August 2001 after he said in a deposition in a negligence lawsuit that a student "made up" a rape allegation to get attention.

School enrollment has dropped from 120 in 2001 to 102 students this year.

©2002 The Olympian